2017: THE YEAR IN REVIEW, PART THREE: WONDER WOMAN TO THE LAST JEDI

Hold it! This is the final part of my 2017 reviewathon, which will conclude with my Top 5 Best and Worst films of the year. It’s very exciting, but seeing that will be no fun if you haven’t read Part One and Part Two first. If you’re going to waste your time reading a mediocre blog, then you might as well do it right.

WONDER WOMAN, 01/06/2017

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Wonder Woman is everything you could possibly want from a superhero film, and then some. Gal Gadot is a revelation, giving a heroic, spirited performance that really drives the film. The plot is riveting too, with a convincing and respectful World War 1 setting that lends it an emotional weight and resonance that other films in the genre can only dream of.

It is a film rich with character development and rife with powerful moments, that superbly straddles the line between gritty realism and flashy comic book action. Critics have given its final showdown flack for being a CGI-heavy light show, but they don’t seem to understand that visual spectacle is a big part of superhero comics, and the ultimate battle in Wonder Woman is dazzling.

Say what you want about the DC Extended Universe, but Wonder Woman royally kicked every other spandex-clad butt out there, becoming the new gold standard of the superhero movie world. (more…)

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2017: THE YEAR IN REVIEW, PART TWO: LEGO BATMAN TO BAYWATCH

Unsurprisingly, this post follows on from Part One, which you might like to read first. Or, you know, don’t. You’re your own person, and shouldn’t let anyone else tell you how to live your life.

THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE, 06/03/2017

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The LEGO Batman Movie is a strange case of a children’s movie which I’m sure will be enjoyed more by big kids, i.e. adults. Following in the square footsteps of the brilliant The LEGO Movie, LEGO Batman’s visual comedy is fast-paced and hilarious, and more than enough to satisfy a younger audience. Where this film shines though is its awareness of pop culture and the Batman legacy, cleverly referencing every previous Batman film and perhaps dozens of other iconic movies through a lengthy sequence filled to bursting with blocky cameos.

It’s not as good as The LEGO Movie, or as funny as last year’s Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders, but it’s 90 minutes of non-stop Batman jokes, and if that doesn’t appeal to you you’ve clearly grown up. (more…)

2017: THE YEAR IN REVIEW, PART ONE: ASSASSIN’S CREED TO LOGAN

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First of all, an apology: this blog is pretty much dead. Retrospectively, all of the posts I ended with the promise of a return to glory are much akin to the apocalyptic ravings of Harold Camping (RIP). Nothing happened, but then nothing was lost either, so we continue living our lives as normal albeit with the faint sadness of expecting another Malteser only to find that they’re all gone. I’m not saying I’m disappointed the Rapture didn’t happen, but in a world in which our leaders include a woman who runs through wheat and at least two man-children with missiles, it might have been the kick in the arse we all need.

Of course, one year ago when I made those false prophecies, I did fully believe that the blog would be reignited. 2017 however has been a whopper for me, not least because I now work in Japan, and am busier than a busy bee that has started his or her own business.

Living in the Land of the Rising Sun is great (heated toilet seats in convenience stores being a winter highlight) but unfortunately it’s kind of killed my cinematic momentum. Going from a job in the UK that let me see as many new films as I like, for free, to a country which either doesn’t get the films I want or gets them 2-3 months late has been tough. There’s an awful lot I regret not getting the chance to watch, but that’s not going to stop me from stepping up to continue my annual tradition: reviewing every new film I have seen this year (‘new’ meaning a UK release date in 2017). Despite spending half the year in Japan, that’s still THIRTY NINE FILMS.

Yes, folks. For a short, beautiful moment, like a butterfly from a cocoon, this blog is alive.

行きましょう! (more…)

Old Time Religion: Contemplating Silence

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Note: the following is a discussion of themes and ideas within the film ‘Silence’, and thus will contain a number of plot details.

In exploring ‘silence’, eminent composer John Cage gave us four minutes and thirty three seconds of pretentious twoddle. Some might enjoy listening to literally nothing while a conductor floats a baton over an air of emptiness, but I personally think it’s just the sort of thing people did back in 1952 to appear cool and edgy, and a way for little Johnny to make a mint from, like I said, literally nothing. Sending off a blank piece of paper to an orchestra and pretending it’s all about contemplating silence might go down well with the artsy fartsy crowd (the sort that would mistake a pair of glasses for art), but I’d much prefer a 160-minute epic historical drama.

Yes, I’m talking about Silence, based on the 1966 Shūsaku Endō novel and in development by director Martin Scorcese for a whole quarter century. It’s a tremendously ambitious film, following the story of two 17th Century Christian missionaries (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) who travel to Japan to find their mentor (Liam Neeson), of whom they have heard rumours of apostasy. (more…)

The Very Best Games of 2016: My Top 3

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Last year was really quite amazing for games, and while I have neither the cash nor the time to play them all (for that you’d probably need a good job and Bernard’s watch), I played my fair share of killer titles. Most of the cool kids do a top ten or a top five, but I’ve decided to spend some quality time here with my top three, as well as mentioning a few runners-up. See? I’m cool in my own way.

RUNNERS UP

// Dark Souls III: It’s my least favourite of all the Souls entries, but its bosses, level design and sense of progression once again put other games to shame. Read a little thing I wrote about it here// Inside: the developers of the celebrated 2010 platformer Limbo return with something every bit as twisted. Many have debated its themes of mind control and manipulation, but it’s the gameplay that truly shines. In spending six years working on an experience that lasts three hours, Playdead created a nigh perfect video game with innovative mechanics that are a pleasure to control. It’s deliciously, darkly atmospheric, and the finale is magnificent. // The Last Guardian: This puzzle-adventure followup to the 2005 masterpiece Shadow of the Colossus was certainly worth the wait. Though bogged down by an unwieldy camera, the relationship between the young protagonist and huge bird-dog-cat-thing Trico is beautiful and believable. It’s quite possibly the best use of an AI companion in games. // Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End: Nathan Drake’s concluding adventure is big-budget cinematic gaming at its absolute finest. The story and voice acting are spectacular, it looks phenomenal, and its set pieces are so jaw-dropping I almost couldn’t believe I was playing them. The series’ previous forays into the supernatural are abandoned in favour of a compelling historical mystery surrounding the Caribbean pirates, and it’s all the better for it. Did I mention it’s about pirates? // 

And now, on with the show… (more…)

2016: The Year in Review, Part Three: Don’t Breathe to Rogue One

Disclaimer: the following post is physically and mentally challenging, and should under no circumstances be attempted if you have not read Parts One and Two first. Think of it like the end of the TV show Raven, where the kid has to walk along the path and dodge all the swinging axes and shit. Got that? I’ll be waiting here with the axes. You have been warned.

DON’T BREATHE, 13/09/2016

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Following Green Room earlier in the year, Don’t Breathe is another thriller that cranks up the tension so much that I was in physical discomfort throughout. In the film, a trio of house burglars break into the home of a blind, old man, hoping for an easy haul. Unfortunately things don’t go to plan, and they get more than they bargained for when said blind, old man turns out to be a hardened war veteran. Harbouring a dark secret, the certified badass proceeds to seal the intruders within the house and methodically hunt them down through hearing alone.

Long shots and painful usage of silence keep you at the edge of your seat with unrelenting suspense, and when that suspense is broken by intense panic and visceral violence, it’s like being jolted awake from one nightmare and into another. It’s intentionally hard work and unpleasant, but its craft is rather masterful, and if you want something to shake up your cold, dead heart, Don’t Breathe is one to watch. Just beware of the doggo – it’s no friendly little pupper, that’s for damn sure. (more…)

2016: The Year in Review, Part Two: Hardcore Henry to Kubo and the Two Strings

Haven’t read Part One yet? If not, you don’t deserve to be here. This is like a private club for the people who have already read my first ten reviews, and let me tell you, there’s some absolute gold in there if I do say so myself. Want to join this club and have some super fun times with even more tippety-top reviews? Well get back there and read ’em, and come back a changed person. No need to thank me, I’m just that nice a guy.

HARDCORE HENRY, 10/04/2016

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Shot entirely from a POV perspective, Hardcore Henry may well be the most accurate video game movie to date, and there’s no license to be seen. Taking inspiration directly from the dumb first person shooters that anyone who’s ever held a controller has surely played, the film is like a non-stop 80-minute journey through action game tropes, such as:

– a conveniently silent protagonist
– a villain with questionable motives (and inexplicable telekinesis)
– a series of clearly defined levels
– gameplay tutorials
– objectives marked on a map
– NPC allies
– boss battles
– a turret section
– an escort quest
– a sniper level
– skill-enhancing, self-administered syringes just left lying around
– a final showdown capped off with a quick time event

Reveling in its loud and over-the-top stupidity, Hardcore Henry’s relentless pace and breathless action never once lost my interest. It’s often hilarious too, whether it be the sheer ludicrousness of it all, or the smattering of well-handled comedic moments (one involving a horse and the theme to The Magnificent Seven had me laughing for minutes). Sharlto Copley particularly is a comic revelation in the film, perfectly embodying the video game spirit in the role of super-soldier Henry’s body-swapping guide.

Like The Matrix crossed with Call of Duty, it’s crazy, exciting and tons of fun, and is self-aware enough that its narrative shortcomings can be forgiven. Hardcore Henry is a blast. (more…)